You get the sense, watching
Billions, that each episode is building towards a cinematic showdown between rivals of equal stature and skill. Season 1 tracked the rivalry between hedge fund manger Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) and Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti), the U.S. attorney determined to take him down for insider trading. In the second season, Chuck and Bobby were still other's sworn enemies.
That brings us to the masterful acrobatics of character and plot
seen in season 3, which concluded Sunday. Axe and Chuck are still fighting, as they always will be — they're just not fighting with each other. In the finale, Axe and Chuck's thrones are toppled by their protégés. Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) conspires with the Attorney General to fire Chuck from his position. Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon) slides out from under the shelter of Axe Capital to launch their own hedge fund, and steals both talent and seed money from Axe.
Sitting around Chuck's stately dining room table, Chuck and Axe are no longer the formidable champions they were in season 1. But they're
already scheming on how to claw their way back to the top. While they're not winners, they surely won't be losers for long.
Let's go through all the main players in
Billions and figure out who had the best season.
Taylor (Asia Kate Dillon) Points for Winner: From the vantage point of the season 3 finale, Taylor is the clear victor. Taylor surreptitiously started their own hedge fund, and screwed over their old boss by taking $2 billion of the seed money Axe raised at the Spartan Ives capital introduction event. Points for Loser: Taylor may have started a hedge fund, but they are completely alone in a financial wilderness that they're still just acclimating to (remember, at the start of season 2, Taylor was an intern). During their confrontation, Wendy (Maggie Siff) accused Taylor of not prioritising their relationships the same way she and Axe do. Wendy has a point. In making the leap over to their own firm, Taylor has effectively alienated all of their closest professional and personal relationships, except for their plaid-wearing lackey Mafee (Dan Soder). So when Axe comes with his teeth bared, who will protect Taylor? So, is Taylor a winner or loser? Winner, for now. As fans, we'll have to decide whether we're Team Taylor or Team Axe.
Jock Jeffcoat (Clancy Brown) Points for Winner: Jock Jeffcoat came this close to succumbing to his underling, Chuck Rhoades', grand plan. Luckily for the cowboy hat-wearing Attorney General, Connerty and Dake (Christopher Denham) warned Jock of Chuck's scheme in advance, and helped him trap Chuck. Jock had fun humiliating Chuck. He grinned as he fired him. Points for Loser: Chuck walked away from his position, but he still carries information about the Jeffcoat brothers' corruption. He can use this information to enact revenge in the future. So, is Jock a winner or loser? Jock and his arrogant grin are definite winners.
Bobby Axelrod (Damien Lewis) Points for Winner: Axe is surrounded by a few loyal compatriots: Maggie, Wags, Ben Kim, and perhaps (?) Chuck Rhoades. Points for Loser: Oh, there's a lot to be upset about when it comes to Axe. Even though he prides himself on being the master of understanding situations, he missed what was right in front of him: Taylor was feeling completely undervalued. His oversight and arrogant demeanour led, in no insignificant part, to Taylor forming Mase Cap on their own. Had Axe let Taylor keep their quants or given Taylor that billion to invest, perhaps Taylor would've waited years before starting their own fund. So, is Axe a winner or loser? Loser, for sure. He let his arrogance blind him.
Chuck Rhoades (Paul Giamatti) Points for Winner: Truly, I can't think of many good things Chuck has going for him, aside from relentless tenacity and a tremendous capacity for revenge. Points for Loser: Axe faced a major betrayal from his second-in-command and Mafee. Chuck faced betrayal from just about everyone he knew. At the end of the finale, Chuck walks into his office thinking he's just pulled off the greatest "gotcha" of his career. Instead, Jock Jeffcoat gets him. Chuck is fired from his job, which he had defined his identity for so long. So, is Chuck winner or loser? Loser, but he's gearing up for the next match, which brings Chuck intrinsic satisfaction.
Bryan Connerty (Toby Leonard Moore) Points for Winner: Earlier this season, Chuck Rhoades fired Connerty in front of the whole office. Ever since that public humiliation, Connerty's been staying up late with Dake, piecing together revenge. During the finale, Bryan had the pleasure of witnessing Chuck be fired in an equally — if not more — devastating manner. He also got Chuck's old job. Points for Loser: Connerty is now forever linked to Jock Jeffcoat. As the interim U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he'll have to do Jeffcoat's bidding, which often involves prosecuting the poor and the disadvantaged. So, is Connerty a winner or loser? Winner — but just you wait, Connerty, just you wait. Chuck's a-coming. That said, I think Chuck has more tangible blackmail on Jeffcoat (given the whole illegal television station scheme) than he does on Connerty, who is infuriatingly clean.
Mafee (Toby Leonard Moore) Points for Winner: If Taylor Mason Capital is as successful as Taylor Mason believes it will be, then Mafee is in a good position. He'll be able to grow under Taylor's direction, perhaps more than he could've under Axe's. From her conversation with Wendy, Taylor seems genuinely interested in creating well-rounded, happy employees – more than Axe ever was. Points for Loser: Mafee now faces the same incoming wrath as Taylor. However, I doubt he will be able to withstand the heat of a blazing Bobby Axelrod with the Taylor's aplomb. Mafee will be reduced to financial analyst ash. So, is Mafee a winner or loser? Depends on how you value loyalty. If you think Mafee made the right professional decision, he's a winner. If you think he should've stayed loyal to Bobby, then you'll enjoy seeing him get taken down.
Points for Winner:
In season 3,
we saw the birth of a new Wendy.
In the past, she'd been a a passive enabler of Chuck and Axe's schemes. She instilled them with the necessary confidence they needed to take a bite out of people and the world, but stayed out of the dirty business. As of the season finale, Wendy has gone full co-conspirator. She's going to take an active role in both Chuck and Axe's dastardly plans. In season 4, Wendy will be Lady Macbeth squared.
Points for Loser:
Wendy was shaken by her confrontation with Taylor. All this time, Wendy thought she was helping Taylor. I mean, Wendy took the subway to Battery Park to comfort Taylor in a carousel! Instead of building a genuine relationship with Wendy, Taylor was running their robotic eyes over Wendy and determining she was, in fact, a fraud. "You let things devolve at Axe Cap. You didn't see me being pushed out the door. You didn't see Axe succumbing to his own worst nature,” Taylor told Wendy. I suspect this betrayal will loom over Wendy's sense of self for some time.
So, is Wendy a winner or loser?
She's a winner because she's finally come into her own. She's a loser because the two men in her life are in terrible positions, and she'll have to (yet again) pour out her best qualities to help them back up.
Points for Winner:
Remember that woman who would only consider marrying Ira if he could buy her a large enough ring? Reader, Ira married her. Unsurprisingly, Taiga (Comfort Clinton) lost interest in sweet, sweet Ira, and ran away. Thanks to the
twin efforts of the Rhoades men
, Ira's wife, Taiga, left her lover and came back to Ira.
Points for Loser:
I'm with Chuck. I can't shake the feeling that Ira deserves someone who loves him for him, not for his salary.
So, is Ira a winner or loser?
Neither, I just wanted to briefly talk about Ira's romantic life as a respite from all this high-minded finance jargon.
Lara Axelrod (Malin Akerman) Points for Winner: Regardless of Axe's manoeuvrings, Lara's life has remained the same (or at least it has so far). She still has an incredible closet. And many houses. And a chef. Overall, Lara's doing all right. Points for Loser: In season 3, a strange thing happened to the characterization of Lara Axelrod. Previously, she'd written off her vast wealth as sort of a funny thing that had happened to her along the way. Her wealth didn't define her; her childhood as a kid in Yonkers did. During the divorce proceedings, she realized how crucial the money was to her sense of self. She's not going to be happy when she discovers Axe Capital — in which she is a massive shareholder — has just received a major blow. So, is Lara a winner or loser? Loser, because if Axe is in a bad place, it'll certainly affect her.
Mike "Wags" Wagner (David Costabile) Points for Winner: Wags and Axe will be in the same boat no matter what. When Axe is winning, Wags is winning. When Axe is losing, as he is now, then Wags is losing. Their fortunes are inextricably tied up. So right now, given Axe's position, Wags is not winning. Points for Loser: His workplace is about to become significantly more rocky (as if it wasn't tumultuous enough already!) So, is Wags a winner or loser? All in all, he's in a more neutral position than Axe or Wendy, the other members of Axe's insider circle. It's not his dignity that's on the line. Taylor didn't betray him. He's more or less a bystander.